Room to Dream

Vir­tual tech­nol­ogy is not as im­plau­si­ble as you may think

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Felic­ity Cousins

Vir­tual dé­cor and a bed that rocks you to sleep? To­mor­row’s tech­nol­ogy is not as im­plau­si­ble as you may think

At the Syd­ney Ho­tel Hos­pi­tal­ity and De­sign Expo in 2011, there was a ses­sion on the ho­tel room of the fu­ture. De­signs in­cluded er­gonomic mas­sag­ing beds, self-clean­ing bath tiles and smart­phone room en­try.

All of this seems tech­no­log­i­cally fea­si­ble – af­ter all, we have just sent a ro­bot into space to ex­plore the sur­face of Mars and trans­mit live footage back to Earth. But what if we fast-for­ward to 20, 30 or even 40 years? What will our ho­tel rooms look like then, and what gad­gets will be in­side them?

Ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy will no doubt guide the di­rec­tion of room de­sign, but are there clues to to­mor­row’s ho­tel room in our past? Pa­trick Goff, edi­tor of hotelde­signs.net, who was a ho­tel de­signer for 20 years, says changes in de­sign are driven by so­ci­ety: “One thing about ho­tel de­sign that has been con­stant in the 40 years I have been in this sec­tor is the as­pi­ra­tional as­pect of stay­ing in a ho­tel. Ho­tels al­ways try to be a stan­dard above what guests have at home.”

Room lay­outs haven’t changed dra­mat­i­cally over the years. They vary in size ac­cord­ing to how much you are will­ing to pay, and which city you are in, but most are cuboid-shaped with a bed, desk and TV, an en suite bath­room, a builtin wardrobe and a mini­bar.

Larry Traxler, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent for global de­sign at Hil­ton World­wide, ex­plains that it is our be­hav­ior that in­flu­ences how rooms are drawn up:“The big­gest change I’ve seen in the gue­stroom has come about by the way peo­ple use it. Ev­ery room has the same ba­sic com­po­nents but peo­ple work dif­fer­ently now – peo­ple can use the lobby as a third space or work in restau­rants or on the sofa, and all this af­fects the de­sign.”

Guest Needs vs De­signer Wants

Some­times the drive for cut­ting-edge de­sign can wipe out any sense of func­tion. How many of you have slipped into your ho­tel bed af­ter a long day only to re­al­ize that the switch by your head only turns off the read­ing lamp?

‘Gad­gets and in­ven­tions af­fect­ing ev­ery­one in the fu­ture

are out there now’

Stomp­ing around the minimalist room search­ing for the elu­sive mas­ter light switch, wildly flick­ing lights on and off like an ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive isn’t con­ducive to a good night’s sleep. Nei­ther is be­ing at­tacked by a toi­let in Tokyo in the mid­dle of the night – the warm wel­com­ing seat a wicked ruse be­fore the wa­ter jets take aim. Will to­mor­row’s ho­tel room be more about what the guest needs than what the de­signer wants?

The Jumeirah Group asked del­e­gates at the TEDx Dubai 2011 event what they wanted to see in the ho­tel room of the fu­ture. Their thoughts were then drawn by artist Zanjeer Salam. Ideas in­cluded vir­tual per­sonal as­sis­tants and ro­bots. Peo­ple also wanted to see un­der­wa­ter ho­tel rooms, which are in fact al­ready a re­al­ity – the Con­rad Mal­dives Ran­gali Is­land has a sub­merged restau­rant and hon­ey­moon suite, and there are sev­eral projects in de­vel­op­ment around the world for en­tire un­der­wa­ter properties, in­clud­ing Dubai’s Wa­ter Dis­cus ho­tel.

Paul Pri­est­man, found­ing di­rec­tor of de­sign group Pri­est­man­goode, says many of the fea­tures that will grace ho­tel rooms in the com­ing decades have al­ready been in­vented:“The flatscreen TV was in the busi­ness arena for many years be­fore it was in­tro­duced into ho­tel rooms,”he says. “We’ll see more re­mote con­trol tech­nol­ogy in the fu­ture.”

Pri­est­man cites Nest – a“learn­ing” ther­mo­stat that uses in­tel­li­gent al­go­rithms to learn per­sonal habits, mean­ing room tem­per­a­ture will be ex­actly as each guest wants it rather than them hav­ing to keep ad­just­ing the air conditioning.“It’s this joined-up type of in­ter­ac­tive tech­nol­ogy that we’ll be see­ing more of,”he says.

An­other ex­am­ple of this is in the bath­room. Ho­tel guests spend about two-thirds of their wak­ing time in the bath­room so it has al­ways been a key

el­e­ment for de­sign­ers. Tim Mut­ton, chief ex­ec­u­tive of hos­pi­tal­ity de­sign­ers Black Sheep, says bath­rooms will in­ter­act with the per­son us­ing them in real time, so light, tem­per­a­ture and scent will all ad­just ac­cord­ing to in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ences.

“The bath­room is be­com­ing more like a spa ex­pe­ri­ence rather than a func­tional el­e­ment,”he says.“The bath­room of the fu­ture will have your own per­sonal pref­er­ence scented prod­ucts.”

Sus­tain­abil­ity will also drive de­sign in the bath­room. Find­ing the right tem­per­a­ture on the ho­tel shower of­ten means us­ing a lot of wa­ter, so Pri­est­man­goode has de­signed dig­i­tal shower con­trollers that can be pre-set to your ideal tem­per­a­ture, al­low­ing you to

‘What will re­place the flatscreen TV? It might be the wall, or the en­tire room sur­face’

start your shower with­out run­ning your hand un­der the wa­ter for ages to gauge when it is hot enough.

“The idea is that sav­ing en­ergy has to make life eas­ier for peo­ple, oth­er­wise they won’t do it,”Pri­est­man says. Mut­ton adds:“The ho­tel of the fu­ture will reg­u­late the amount of wa­ter used and we will be con­scious about what we are us­ing. Room rates might even be ad­justed to how much power is used.”

Liv­ing in a Ma­te­rial World

Ian Pear­son, fu­tur­ol­o­gist for tech­nol­ogy, mar­ket­ing and strat­egy con­sul­tancy Fu­tur­i­zon, says ma­te­ri­als used in rooms will change dra­mat­i­cally.“We are al­ready over­tak­ing na­ture on the ma­te­rial side of things – cot­ton is a huge pol­lu­tant to pro­duce and clean, but we will see self-clean­ing us­ing nan­otech­nol­ogy,” he says. Ma­te­ri­als with this emerg­ing and ex­cit­ing tech­nol­ogy have molec­u­lar level nanopar­ti­cles that elim­i­nate tiny scratches or fis­sures, cre­at­ing an ul­tra­smooth sur­face that re­pels wa­ter, grease and bac­te­ria. Still, this prob­a­bly wouldn’t com­pen­sate for the freshly laun­dered smell that makes get­ting into a ho­tel bed so uniquely ap­peal­ing.

Pri­est­man says such tech­nol­ogy is al­ready here.“There are self-clean­ing bath tiles and‘shake’self-clean­ing ma­te­ri­als,” he says.“So you could just shake the bed sheets and they would be clean.”Pear­son adds that this“in­tel­li­gent tech­nol­ogy”also means we will see ma­te­ri­als chang­ing color ac­cord­ing to mood“or bed­ding that wicks away mois­ture or changes tem­per­a­ture.”

Mut­ton goes a step fur­ther:“Ma­te­ri­als will re­plen­ish them­selves and look bet­ter – ho­tels can take four years to build so they need to last and have ma­te­ri­als that can ad­just to their sur­round­ings,”he says.

Vir­tual Rooms, Real Ser­vice

What about other tech­nol­ogy in the room? With many trav­el­ers now car­ry­ing their own de­vices such as tablets and e-read­ers, what will be the fu­ture of in-room en­ter­tain­ment, for ex­am­ple?“Tech­nol­ogy has al­ready af­fected room de­sign,”says Hil­ton’s Traxler.“Big block TVs are now flatscreen. So what takes the place of the flatscreen TV? It might be the wall, or the en­tire sur­face of the room.”

Pear­son sug­gests some­thing far more rev­o­lu­tion­ary – that ho­tel guests in 50 years’time might be wear­ing high­res­o­lu­tion aug­mented re­al­ity con­tact lenses so they can cre­ate their own en­ter­tain­ment. “Once you have a dis­play like that [through the lenses], you don’t need any­thing else,”he says.“There will be no need for iPads, Kin­dles or TVs.” Aug­mented re­al­ity – a com­put­er­gen­er­ated re­al­ity – means peo­ple can walk around in a vir­tual world that ap­pears real. Dur­ing the Olympics, the Hol­i­day Inn Kens­ing­ton Fo­rum un­veiled“the world’s first aug­mented re­al­ity ho­tel.” Guests used smart­phones and tablets to see Lon­don 2012 Olympic and Par­a­lympic ath­letes in vir­tual ac­tion in the pub­lic ar­eas and bed­rooms.

All this could mean that if you want to see Renoir paint­ings on the wall of your room, you could, or if you are stay­ing in a bud­get ho­tel you could have the plush dé­cor of the Ritz.“At the mo­ment you go to a ho­tel room and it is the same for ev­ery guest,”Pear­son says.“But with aug­mented re­al­ity it doesn’t have to be.”

Such ideas fea­ture strongly in his Trav­elodge Fu­ture of Sleep re­port, com­piled for the chain last year. Pos­si­bil­i­ties for the ho­tel room of 2030 in­clude pro­ject­ing im­ages of your fa­vorite beach get­away on to walls and fur­ni­ture – ac­com­pa­nied by the sooth­ing sounds of gen­tle ocean waves via au­dio panels built into the win­dows – or shop­ping from your room with the walls repli­cat­ing store in­te­ri­ors.

Still, aug­mented re­al­ity can’t take the place of tan­gi­ble lux­u­ries, and Pear­son con­cedes that a white box as a ho­tel room may not be the fu­ture de­sire of ev­ery­one, as“there will al­ways be some peo­ple who want the real stuff.”

Apart from five-star fa­cil­i­ties, top-end ho­tels have al­ways been about ser­vice. So who will cater to our needs in the fu­ture? “You may have ro­bots to clean the rooms, but I think hos­pi­tal­ity is al­ways best when it comes with a hu­man smile,”Mut­ton says. “The lux­ury level is all about ser­vice and can you fully rely on ro­bots?You can­not re­place con­ver­sa­tion.”

Pear­son agrees:“As things be­come more au­to­mated, hu­man be­ings will be­come more valu­able. Some peo­ple may pay ex­tra to be served by a hu­man.” BT

Above: Aug­mented re­al­ity at the Hol­i­day Inn

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